When I first moved to Paris, I didn't actually move to Paris. You see, Remi chose our apartment before I arrived - one that was close to the prestigious Gamma Photo Agency that he had been working with for years. We lived right on the other side of the Périphérique, the ring road that surrounds Paris proper, in a quiet suburban neighborhood (one that was shockingly so for this former Manhattanite). It was a ten to fifteen minute walk back to our flat from the metro, depending on which line we had taken, our moods and the weather. I remember strolling arm in arm on the way home from one of those rare evenings that we had spent in the City - for we were quite poor then - and looking with surprise at all of the apartments lining the boulevard with such strong overhead lights shining out of the windows (something that I still find odd) even in the finest buildings where chandeliers were quick with a wink. The figures inside showed up as distinctly as guests on a television show or figures in a Hopper painting, moving about their evening lives. "Don't they close the curtains?" I asked Remi with a nod upwards. "Eh, no," he responded. "Pourquoi?" Why wouldn't they? "Um, for privacy?" I asked again, my voice pitching upwards on the last word. Remi turned to give me one of those bemused smiles that we would often share in those early days, when the train tracks of our cultures would cross over and then part directions.
Somehow that memory flooded back to me this evening as I dashed around and then through the puddles, umbrella gripped and my grocery bags pulling down my shoulders. Certainly with the rain, this tiny little village had already retired for the evening and as always, the lights were on and everyone was home. I am still prudish in the American way at such proximity, as if they could feel my stare and perhaps they could if I lingered long enough as so many of the houses hold their kitchens and living rooms on the ground floor, mere steps from the street. But I did pause to catch two separate glimpses both in overly remodeled homes with shiny floor tiles and yes, neon bolts of bright white overhead. In the first, at a house where I often see chalk drawings in the alley out front, I saw a small boy, already in his pyjamas but with a yellow bib still around his neck, seated at straw-thatched chair of children's height, low to the ground. In his hand, he held three cards and regarded them studiously with a tilt to his head as if the answers to all the world were within his grasp. I turned the corner and a few houses down, in one that had been newly rented this summer and where the Mother returned my only attempt at a "Bonjour" with a suspicious raised eyebrow, my glance was caught by a blur of movement. For there in the glow of a blue computer screen, also on a lower level to the floor, danced another boy, slightly older. His longish hair flew as his arms splayed wide, then overhead. He did a soft, unformed ballet leap. How pleased I was to know that happiness did in fact reside where I thought that it did not.
These moments, seen so closely as if I had been simply remembering, were gathered gratefully as the rain fell down around me in the cover of night's dark.
As I was editing the above, I suddenly had a palm slap on the forehead of "Aha!" for I recognized and had to give credit where was due as Jaques Tati had already expressed this idea of modern French life on display long ago! Here is a tiny bit of "Playtime" a true favorite in this house, one that extends beyond language but is, as are all of his films (if only he had made more!) a fitting diorama of contemporary culture.
Yes, you guessed it, in my weird little way, this is my Thanksgiving post. Sending much joy to all of you that will be celebrating it on Thursday...and actually to those of you who will not as well.